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December 15, 2015

Forgotten Colonies #1: Chandernagor

Text by Huzan Tata and Zaral Shah. Illustration by Hemant Sapre

Here’s why you should visit these lesser known former colonies in India

THE TERRACOTTA TEMPLES OF CHANDERNAGOR 

Known as Europe along the River Hooghly (certain local companies offer a Ganges cruise), this town’s European roots date back to 1673 when Duplessis, the first French settler, landed on its shores and became its commander. Chandannagar, formerly known as Chandernagor, was ruled by the French until 1950. Even today, if you stroll through the city, the French influence is evident in a building called The Strand which runs along the riverbank. Also known for its terracotta temples, the city has the Boro Shvtala area, which houses a spectacular nine-pinnacled temple. It has a triple-arch entrance on two sides along with intricate terracotta panels, and houses a giant Shiva linga. Take time out to explore the collection of French memorabilia at the Institut de Chandernagor.

For a first-hand experience of the local culture, catch the Jagadhatri Puja, a well-known sociocultural event here, celebrated since the 1750s. A form of Durga, this four-handed goddess symbolises power and triumph of good over evil. As a quick getaway or an en-route diversion, Chandernagor is surrounded by some other cities with European roots. For a touch of the rich, intellectual and artistic Danish culture, a former colony, Frederiksnagore, now Serampore, makes for the perfect short trip. Chinsurah, a forgotten Dutch abode, is known for The District Court Building of Chinsurah — the longest in the state. Bandel is an erstwhile town where the taste of Portuguese culture can be experienced in the form of the dry, smoky-flavoured Bandel cheese that originated here.

The Tagore Factor
Patal Bari is an underground house from the colonial period. The lowest floor being submerged in the river, it is said that Rabindranath Tagore spent some time here. A unique example of architectural advancement in the country, the house is over 100 years old and reflects upon French culture with a Bengali twist.

TRAVEL LOG
Stay: at The Oberoi Grand, a short drive away in Kolkata. Famous for its pillar-less Grand Ballroom, the hotel has a classy colonial touch with modern amenities. Shop: at the local market — from colourful bangles to Farashdanga dhotis (a traditional dress for Bengali men), a souvenir can be found in many forms. Find: something interesting to read from one of the many publications the city has from both the French era and modern times. Visit: all through the year. Nearest airport: Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata, 40 kilometres away, a one-hour drive.

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